El Chapo Trial Set for April, 2018

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman-Loera returned to court today. A trial date was set for April, 2018. A "Cuercio" hearing was held about a potential conflict of interest due to the federal defenders having briefly represented some of the witnesses against El Chapo. He waived any potential conflict and said he is happy with his federal defenders. His wife, whom he has not been permitted to visit with, was in court.

Yesterday the Judge ruled on his challenge to the conditions of his confinement (the 18 page order is available here).

Essentially, the order upholds the Government's SAMS. One exception is that El Chapo will be allowed to send pre-screened messages to his wife, both about his choice of counsel and any assets from which lawyers can be paid, and about personal matters. The messages will be screened by a variety of agencies, from Homeland Security to the DEA to "firewall counsel" (prosecutors not on the current prosecution team.) [More...]

The SAMs are to be modified to permit defendant to send pre-screened messages to his wife, subject to review by the screening agencies or firewall counsel, regarding retention of private counsel, payment of private counsel, and of a personal nature;

...The SAMs are to be modified to permit pre-cleared defense counsel and/or private counsel to send pre-screened (by the screening agencies or firewall counsel) communications to defendant’s family members for the limited purpose of communicating defendant’s desire to retain particular counsel and the logistics of obtaining funds to do so;

As to why El Chapo's request to be put in the general population was denied:

Specifically, the Government has articulated legitimate objectives of preventing defendant from running the Sinaloa Cartel from prison, coordinating any escape from prison, or directing any attack on individuals that he may believe are cooperating with the Government. These interests are premised on alleged prior acts by defendant. As the Government has recounted, while defendant was imprisoned in Mexico the first two times, he allegedly used third parties to further his narcotics trafficking enterprise, to plan and execute his escapes from Mexican prisons, and to intimidate possible cooperators.

...The conditions are reasonably necessary to ensure that defendant cannot coordinate any escape from prison, direct any violence against cooperators, or manage any aspect of the Sinaloa Cartel’s enterprise, which includes narcotics trafficking and violence.

The judge rejected his challenge to solitary confinement on constitutional grounds.

Defendant’s solitary confinement at the MCC, communication restrictions, and visitor restrictions, to the extent they burden his First, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights, are rationally connected to the Government’s legitimate purposes.

He also ruled it was not cruel and unusual punishment.

There were some warnings to the Government about its public comments:

The Court reminds the Government of its obligations to abstain from making statements to the media that may reasonably be expected to influence the perceptions of the potential jury pool and therefore the outcome of the trial.

He also ordered that the jailers cannot tell prosecutors what they observe during El Chapo's visits with his legal team.

The prosecution is ordered to cease any communications with MCC staff where the MCC staff reports the content of legal visits based on staff observations. Those reports from the MCC may continue, but they have to be made to firewall counsel, not the prosecution team. Firewall counsel can determine whether further investigation and reporting to the prosecution team is necessary, and if they think it is, they can request permission from the Court to relay that information to the prosecution team.

I'm not sure I see the difference between firewall counsel and the prosecution team, since firewall counsel are all DOJ lawyers who have investigated El Chapo or prosecuted other cases he's involved in.

The Judge also admonished the parties to try harder to resolve differences themselves before bringing them to the Court's attention. He gave the example of the clock El Chapo bought from the commissary that was taken away from him and after his lawyers complained, returned.

I think the clock was a big deal. Can you imagine being held in a room with an opaque piece of plastic covering the only window so you don't know if it is day or night, and also not having a clock? Who wouldn't go insane after months of such confinement?

Back to today: The Judge today said he will look into El Chapo's complaint that he can't see his lawyers during visits or the documents they are trying to show him unless they both stand. The government offered to get him a booster chair. It adamantly refuses to allow El Chapo's lawyers to visit without a partition between them. In a previous case where a defendant made the same challenge, the Government was ordered to bring him to a different prison once a month where he could meet with his lawyers. That's unlikely to happen here, given El Chapo's prior escapes in Mexico.

I don't think El Chapo will retain private counsel. With the government screening any messages as to how they would be paid (assuming OFAC grants them a license to be paid at all), it's like giving the government a blueprint to his assets. So far the Government has found not even one dollar belonging to El Chapo.

The Federal Defenders are doing an excellent job for El Chapo. Although he's reportedly interviewed 16 lawyers, I doubt he'll end up hiring any. If he stays with the Federal Defenders, his investigative and expert witness fees will also be paid by the Government.

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  • Display: Sort:
    A good courthouse sketch of Guzman (none / 0) (#1)
    by Mr Natural on Fri May 05, 2017 at 12:26:31 PM EST
    is in this report.

    (This is the link to the sketch image itself.  Article art tends to drift over time.